Planning for the full spectrum of market diversity when designing your products and services helps ensure market reach and engagement. Neurodiversity is one dimension that is often overlooked when designing a product or service, even when your team may take other forms of inclusion and intersectionality into account.

With 40% of people having brains that work in neurodiverse ways that can impact comprehension, learning, and engagement, understanding how to accommodate neurodiversity is an important part of your product strategy and service design work.

What is neurodiversity?

At its most basic level, neurodiversity describes the differences in how people’s brains work, solve problems, think, and process information. This can include the impact of various neurodiverse conditions like ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, and Autism.

In design, all of these ways that people’s brains differ from one another also affect how they will interact and whether they will enjoy using your product or service. Benton et al in “Diversity for Design: A Framework for Involving Neurodiverse Children in the Technology Design Process”, 2014, note that children and people with diverse needs are “at risk of growing frustrated or bored with existing interactive technologies because their needs…are not well understood or identified.”

When designing for a neurodiverse population, consider these factors to minimize frustration with your product or service.

Tactical approaches to accommodating neurodiversity

  • Avoid flashing images, excessive animations, and rapid changes to the interface or pictures. These changes can be both distracting and disorienting for people.
  • Use highly-readable typefaces, such as sans serif typefaces like Open Sans, to increase readability and clarity (particularly for people with Dyslexia)
  • Ensure you show information in a range of different ways to accommodate for different ways of learning. This includes a mix of text, images, video, and audio.

Project example: instinct vs anxiety

On a recent educational project, an objective was to have people move through a series of personal assessment questions as quickly as possible to get a sense of their instinctual response to each question.

One of the approaches considered was to set a countdown timer with each question. The issue here is the unintended consequence of causing anxiety and indecision for some people based on their learning and thinking style.

Ultimately, having a dialogue with customers in advance of them taking the questionnaire to encourage them not to overthink their answers was a more consistently impactful method of establishing this behaviour. We avoided having the app cause additional stress or introducing distracting elements while in the flow of the questionnaire, allowing people to focus more intently on the individual questions and responses.

The ROI of inclusive design

As with many accommodations related to what have historically been defined as “edge cases”, planning for neurodiversity affords a series of benefits that include improving your products and services for everyone and reducing long-term development and maintenance costs.

Making products and services work for neurodiverse customers makes it easier for everyone to engage with your product or service. Alternatively, designing without considering neurodiversity risks alienating part of your market.

When 40% of people have brains that work in neurodiverse ways, not considering neurodiversity in your work limits your success and negatively impacts customer experience.

Whether it’s choosing colours that are less distracting to read or look at or avoiding disruptive animations or images, to making more fun, dynamic experiences, changes and designs that build on neurodiverse needs ultimately benefit all users of your product or service.

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